Ethiopian Jews children Gondar 311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
On May 25, 1991, when the first airplanes of Ethiopian immigrants started to
land in Israel, I was at home with my parents eating a traditional Ethiopian
breakfast. It was a Shabbat, and at noon the media started to publicize the
exciting news about the aliya that was taking place. Because we kept Shabbat at
my parents’ house, we had had no idea what was going on until a neighbor, an
immigrant from France, knocked on our door and told us the news about Operation
We decided to turn on the television, and from that moment my
parents were glued to the screen. With tears in their eyes they tried to
recognize familiar faces among the people disembarking from the airplanes.
During that Shabbat all my relatives from both sides of my family, who we’d had
to say goodbye to seven years earlier, arrived in Israel.
I had come to
Israel with my parents in December, 1984, during Operation Moses. After walking
for several weeks from our village in the Gondar region of Ethiopia, we arrived
at refugee camps in Sudan. The waiting in the camps seemed to go on forever.
Luckily, with the help of messengers and assistance from Israel, we were able to
get to Israel. However this was only one month before the operation was forced
to end because someone in Israel leaked its existence to the international
Many of the Jews living in the camps in Sudan who had been waiting
for so long were forced to return to Ethiopia when they realized that no one
would rescue them. They had to go all the way back and reconstruct their lives
and rekindle their hopes. They maintained their hopes of re-uniting with their
families in Israel, a hope that was almost lost through the arduous process of
waiting in Sudan and returning.
SIX YEARS after my aliya, in 1991,
because of the worsening situation in the Ethiopian civil war and fears that the
regime would collapse, the Israeli government was able to come to an agreement
regarding bringing out the remaining Jews. With intercession by diplomats from
the US, Israel was able to find a brief window of opportunity to use the airport
in Addis Ababa. The rebellion, then at the doors of the capital, was delayed
just long enough for the evacuation to take place. Beginning on May 24, 14,000
Jews came to Israel in 36 hours.
I was 10 years old at the time and still
carry with me the vivid memory of the reunion of our extended family. It’s hard
to contain oneself when seeing the excitement of relatives who hadn’t seen or
received word from each other for many years.
My family spent a long time
just catching up on what everyone had experienced over the time they had been
apart. Even at that young age, I realized nothing can hold a person against
Today, with the celebration of the Sigd holiday, which takes
place this week, we remember the 20th anniversary of Operation Solomon. We
commemorate the two events at the same time.
This holiday’s source is in
the Biblical book of Nehemia and takes its name from the root of the word
segida, which means to pray or bow.
In Ethiopia, 50 days after Yom Kippur
the Jewish community would commemorate this holiday through fasting and climbing
to the highest nearby mountain. Led by the kesoch (rabbis) and community
leaders, they would ascend the high summit and pray for the return to Jerusalem,
When the community got to Israel, they continued this tradition
by coming together from all over Israel to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon
Hanatziv. The promenade there overlooks the Old City so it was
Interposed with the regular prayers of the holiday the
community also uttered a prayer to be reunited with the families they left
behind in Sudan and Ethiopia.
In 2008, thanks to the herculean efforts of
Ethiopian organizations, Israel passed a Sigd Law that turned it from a holiday
only identified with the Ethiopian community to an official holiday of the State
In November 1991, the Sigd prayers for the reunion of our
families was answered. The new immigrants and those who were here celebrated
together, for the first time, the holiday in Jerusalem. My father recalls that
the 1991 holiday was the happiest Sigd of them all.The author has an MA
from the Hebrew University and works for the Israeli government.